Editors note: The following is a serialized science fiction story by Adam Brewer. Parts 1 and 2 are featured.
“Tonight I write my lies, the last I’ll ever tell,” Patrick thought. His joints ached at the thought of putting pen to paper. He leaned on his cane and with effort sat in the chair, leaving the cane dangling on the chairback.
The room was stark white, about ten feet by ten feet. In it was only the chair he sat in, a small utilitarian table, and no door. There wasn’t a lightbulb, there wasn’t a window either. By all accounts, it didn’t make sense. But then again, did any dream make sense? Patrick had been told he would see some things he couldn’t explain, the young men who had put him here and also said he would see subconscious representations of his life achievements. Things of worth to him or symbols of his greatest life achievements should clutter his mental space they had said.
Had he not achieved anything in life? Surely there was something he loved. But the room remained starkly empty and lonely. This was his mind, he decided what he saw. He willed things into existence, a school trophy he won in grade school, his daughter, even his wife. But he couldn’t lie to himself forever; each person, thing, and symbol turned to paper at his gaze.
It was time to do what he’d come to do.
Patrick took the paper coffee mug that was now on the table and spread it out flat. On the ashes of his false life he would build something real. It was a strange thing, how much a coffee mug could represent. To him it meant the place where Patrick had been caught stealing, and where he’d lied about meeting the girl of his dreams when he got back home. Of course, no one had believed him. So he began to write, “I met my wife when I was travelling the galaxy after college…”
The back of his neck throbbed and on the perfectly white wall a line of red letters glowed into existence. “!Forty Five Minutes Remaining!” they read. This was not the real world, Patrick was currently inside his own mind. At least that was what the doctors had said. In the real world, Patrick lay on a field of needles and instruments as he was dying. There, he had only forty five minutes to live before his heart finally gave out and he ceased being. But in his mind, those same forty five minutes could be a lifetime.
When every false life of his had been scribed on their creased paper memorial he set down the pen that seemed so heavy. Why should he still be so old in a figment of his own imagination? Then the back of his neck throbbed again where they had linked him to a computer. He had the sense of being invaded, and then a man in a white lab coat appeared.
“Are you ready, Mr. Howe?” He asked. Pat nodded and the man continued, “The process is final, once you live a moment in your dream it will rewrite your memory of the event. This can be either good or bad, do you wish to continue?”
“Give my life meaning,” he begged.
The doctor walked around the white walls and studied each story that Patrick had written down. He picked up the coffee mug which had re-folded itself, he spread it out on the table and scanned its contents.
“I think we’ll start with this one Mr. Howe, it seems to be the earliest in your life and the details of the true events will be more fuzzy than one more recent. This will help ease the process of rewriting the memories, you may experience some glimpses of your original memories, we call this the memory displacement effect. It works similar to a boat in water except the displacement gets smaller and smaller the more you use this process.”
“I’ll bring up that memory now doctor.” A new man burst into life beside Patrick, nearly giving him a heart attack forty-five minutes early. “Sorry,” The new man said.
“I apologize for that Mr. Howe, whenever you hear someone speak in the real world your mind creates a projection of them here. It is one of the side effects of your semi lucid state and the reason we are able to interact in this way. My helpers were supposed to remain quiet for the duration of the procedure.” He aimed the last comment more at the man who had spoken than at Patrick.
“I don’t care about that, start the machine already. I’m not getting any younger, now am I?”
“Actually, you might say that you are getting younger.” There was a moment’s pause and then three more men and a woman burst into his mind’s eye as they went through the checklist, much like a plane would be made operational. He had written his final lies, and they were meant for him. Then, he forgot, remembered, and forged a new life.
The bakery was a nice place, there were ferns lining shelves and a rustic wood counter above a sparkling glass case that contained every dessert Pat could imagine. He waited in line and when it was his turn, bought a coffee and scone. It was the perfect beginning to his day, and he sipped at the coffee as he walked out. It burned his tongue and he winced, trying to find a way to lessen the heat without spitting it out. He blew on the surface of the drink and nearly spilled it on a young woman who flung open the glass door and drew up short in front of him. She was beautiful in a way that had less to do with what she looked like. She was beautiful because Pat could tell she was easy to smile, she wore her life and she was joyful.
“Oh, hello,” She said, and her easy smile bloomed across her face. She glanced at the clock, “look at the time, I’m not late after all.”
Pat chuckled, “Where are you going?” Would she think he was too forward?
She groaned in the way people did when they weren’t actually dissatisfied, “Work, you know? I have tons of space rocks to look through today. You’d think we would have lost interest in space rocks after so many years in space.”
“So you work at the geological institute?” Pat asked.
“Yep. It’s like having a really big rock collection of worthless chunks that would be priceless back home.”
Pat gave her one of his best smiles, “Well I hope I run into you again, maybe we could grab coffee together sometime?”
“Yeah, I think I’d like that.”
Pat’s heart beat frantically “Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” he gave her a small wave and slipped past her and through the door. When it was closed, he took a breath and closed his eyes. What had he just done? Had he just asked someone out?
Then he smacked his forehead. He’d forgotten to even get her name! How dumb could he possibly be? It was probably too late to go back in and ask, and besides, there was something else that overshadowed the importance of introductions. Something big, red, and flashing across the sides of buildings, glowing as holograms among the ornamental vines and trees. The words said “…Impact imminent evacuate station…Asteroid impact imminent.”
Well that put a slight damper on plans for the future, but Pat handled the news fantastically. The shriek that he made was really just to let other people know that there was something to be shrieked about, and the terror he felt, if you could even call it “terror” was simply to let him know that other people might be uneasy at the idea of an asteroid collision.
The station was built onto an asteroid of its own, in fact part of the monolithic rock was visible on one side of the ring. It was built in a cylindrical shape, with each level being one long circle around one mile deep center hole. Small personal ships were already lifting off from docking pads on a dozen different levels and rising up, up, up to the top of the station or to one of the spaceport gates that appeared scattered up and down the cylinder like large corridors to outer space.
Other men and women scattered as they emerged from shops and offices to discover what the now blaring alarms meant and found impending doom to be the answer. This felt wrong somehow.
Pat looked around, wondering what he should do. Obviously he needed to get off of the station before it hit the asteroid, but he didn’t own a ship. He had arrived on Station Hermit via a shuttle, and there wasn’t another due for six more weeks.
There wasn’t much else to do so he joined the rest of the people around him in scurrying toward the closest docking bay. If there was any hope of survival, he’d find it there.
The closest docking bay was two levels up and a quarter around the rim, so Pat sprinted for the elevator and hoped that it wasn’t already clogged. It wasn’t, it had just taken a group up and was returning as he skidded to a halt. He boarded the lift with four other people and reached for the button for the level he wanted.
“No wait!” A woman grabbed his wrist. He stopped his finger just before the light illuminated the button.
“What?” Pat asked, “That’s our nearest escape.”
“We need to go to level nineteen, my little son is at home. I can’t leave without him,” She said. Pat considered just pushing the button, saving himself for sure. But he might be condemning the woman and her child, she was sure to go back for him. He looked at the other people in the lift, studied their faces.
The man in the corner nodded at him, “We have time. The alarms just started, so we should have a little while, long enough to go to floor nineteen and back up.” He said. “We have to remain calm, and think rationally.”
Pat pushed floor nineteen.
The lift went down with a shudder. The readout counted down thirty… twenty nine… twenty eight. It was excruciatingly slow. But eventually it reached nineteen and the woman got off before the doors were fully open. The man who had nodded pushed floor thirty two and only then did Pat realize that in their haste, they had forgotten that nineteen had a docking bay of its own. The doors slid shut and in a moment of dread and foolhardiness, Pat jumped through, his foot nearly getting crushed by the doors.
From inside the elevator he heard the man shouting, “What are you doing!” But it was too late now, if he was wrong and there weren’t ships on this level- he didn’t finish the thought. If the woman would have had time, he’d surely have time as well.
Drones flew around like bees around a hive, projecting the warning. Of course they didn’t say how long it would be until impact, just that it was soon.
The drone closest to him switched its message to say “Watch out for smaller, faster chunks.” Moments later there was an explosion far above and the whole station shook. In the center of the empty space the rim ringed, a rock the size of a person plummeted. Evidentially slowed by the impact, it arced down toward the bottom levels.
Well that wasn’t very much warning at all, Pat thought. That was only the beginning. Thuds and explosions sounded every few seconds after that and rocks rained down in all sizes. Rubble and steel fell with them.
That was when it became real for Pat, when he realized that he might die if he didn’t escape the station.
There was a tug on his arm and Pat came back to reality, he had been staring at the beautiful destruction for probably a full minute frozen in place by the terrible splendor of it all. He refocused his eyes on the man who was shaking him. Through his pounding ears he heard the man asking, “Do you have a ride offstation, sir? Sir?”
What was he talking about? He couldn’t afford a ride on the shuttle, he was… broke. No that wasn’t right, he had money, and it didn’t matter anyway because the whole station was in danger. He shook his head at the man, fully returned back to reality now. “No, I was hoping to find one still in the hangar,” he said.
“Well you’re in luck, mister. Come with me and I’ll get you out of here.” The man put a hand on Pat’s shoulder and pointed him in the direction of the hangar. “Go!”
Pat followed the man as he left the elevator and dodged falling debris cascading from above. A drone zipped by and projected a flashing display of a large meteor flying toward the long and skinny tubelike station; there was a five minute countdown clock superimposed over the image. Pat breathed deeper and pushed a little harder with each step. The hangar was close now. Only a little farther. Pat skidded to a halt as he nearly missed the gate to the hangar and ran through the open blast doors.
There were only three ships remaining. There was a bright red and orange Ulfantine Corvette lifting off, one blue ship that had been crushed under a block of concrete, and a green cargo ship that looked like an old aircraft design. “Which one?” Pat asked.
“That one,” the man said as if it were a stupid question and they finished their dash to the green ship.
“Lucky it wasn’t yours that got crushed, eh?” Pat tried a smile but it didn’t seem right.
“Mine? No mine was that one, but I still want to get out of here. Don’t you?”
Pat looked at the destroyed blue one and emphatically agreed with that sentiment. It took the man considerably less time to break in than Pat would have expected under the circumstances and he let down the boarding ramp.
“Do you know how to prime the engines?” he asked.
“Yeah, you just get ready for liftoff.” Pat hurried to the controls. When he looked up he found that six other people had entered the cargo hold and were anxiously eying Pat and the other man. “Hey what’s your name?” Without looking up the man said, “Frankfurt. Call me Dizzy, though.”
“Engines primed.” Pat reported, “I’m Patrick.”
“Then we have liftoff!”
The whole ship shuttered and lurched off of the ground. A heads up display appeared in front of Dizzy and he maneuvered through a larger gate into the main chamber of the station. Now that they were in a ship and free from specific directions, it struck Pat more like the throat of some monstrous beast.
The path that they flew wound around falling bricks and sections of concrete bridges that were barely held on by rebar, swinging wildly.
Then Pat saw her.
The woman he had met in the coffee shop, who he had gotten off to a great start with, was trapped on a section of walkway with no hope of escape. “Turn around, we have to go back!”
“What? Are you crazy? We’re almost home free!”
“There was a woman down there, we have to help her.”
“A lot of people are going to die today, and I have a lot of people counting on me right now to get them to safety. I can’t. Go. Back.”
“She’s counting on you, too. Turn around right now.”
“If we die I’m blaming you,” Dizzy shouted and pulled the ship into a banking turn that ended with them aimed right at the woman. Pat really should have gotten her name. He ran out of the cockpit and pressed the ramp release, opening the door to the outside. He hadn’t realized just how windy it was, but it was blustery.
Dizzy put on the breaks at just the last second and positioned the boarding ramp mere feet away from where the woman stood. She was terrified but she looked like someone who had given up hope learning there was hope after all. So she probably looked less terrified than a few moments before.
“Hurry it up back there!” Dizzy shouted.
“I’ll catch you, jump now!” Pat called through the wind to the woman. She took a step back, and then took a running leap over the abyss and-
There was a strange pain in the back of Pat’s neck and he closed his eyes to shut it out. He opened them to a grey world. He was cold and wrapped in a thin jacket and he huddled near a hot lightbulb for warmth. The men and women around him were gone. There was no world shattering asteroid headed his way. He was alone in a tiny compartment that stank of mold and dust. In his hand was a picture of home, and almost involuntarily he thought Everything will be better, soon.
A noise startled him and he shrank away from the door that he had locked. Somehow he knew that if he was found, it would mean the end of everything. Why? Why would it be the end? Pat racked his brain, looking for the answer. He had nearly forgotten the frenzied scene he had been in moments before.
I am broke, aren’t I? That was right, he hadn’t escaped the station, he had fled it for some other reason. If only he could remember what it was.
Pat reeled backward as the woman flew through the air and into his open arms. He smiled. “You’re safe now.”
“She won’t be if you don’t hurry up and close that door!” Dizzy shouted from the cockpit. Oh, right. Pat steadied the woman and they moved just inside. Someone else was ready and pushed the close button.
“Everybody strap in best you can. We aren’t making any more stops.” The latter Dizzy had addressed toward Pat, who buckled into the copilot seat and punched commands into the computer. Dizzy piloted around obstacles and soon they were looking into open space. Empty all except for the meteor that had destroyed Pat’s life.
Now that his part was done, Pat watched the station shrink through a rear window. All he could think about, however, wasn’t how he would be forced to return to earth, or how his favorite bakery was gone forever. All he could think about was a strange feeling of déjà vu. Like he had done this exact same thing years before, except all he could picture inside his head was a tiny, grey room.
To be continued…